Strategy Roundtable: Common Auction Errors

Footballguys staff members offer their thoughts on some common auction errors

What are some common errors you see in auction leagues? How can these errors be exploited?

Alex Miglio: Auction leagues are tricky business. Mock drafts are great for doing reps, but every single draft is different. League owners will have tendencies you can exploit if you pay attention from year-to-year, but even familiarity cannot predict what will happen in drafts.

The single biggest mistake I see in auction drafts is going in with a rigid draft philosophy. Budgeting is important. Tiers are great. Knowledge of positional scarcity is fundamental. But going into an auction draft and saying, "I'm going to do X, Y, and Z," without any sort of flexibility is a good way to find yourself panicking midway through the draft.

Anything could happen, which is why you should adapt your strategy throughout the draft. If you planned on paying up for running backs and find that your league mates are driving up prices beyond even your budget, pivot elsewhere. If you tend to skimp at quarterback and see gun shy leaguemates letting Aaron Rodgers go for $24, you would be remiss not to jump in and see if you can grab an incredible value there.

Beyond inflexibility, the most important thing to remember about auction drafts is this—never, ever bid on a player you don't want or need. Whether that means bidding $2 on a kicker on a whim or $29 on a tight end simply because you want to drive the price up, always place a bid on a player with the assumption you can win that bid. You do not need a third quarterback, so why risk landing one? It's not your job to drive up the price of players—let the market decide that.

Chad Parsons: Auctions are my favorite format to build a fantasy football squad - whether redraft, keeper, or dynasty.

The biggest mistake I see is a lack of planning before the auction begins. At a minimum, I suggest creating a 'big board' of players with their expected or projected values for the format. The Footballguys Draft Dominator or VBD tools are excellent to customize projections into the specific format to return a value structure.

The second step is just as critical - create a mock roster with how many of each position and their expected cost within the salary cap. Check the value sheet to input realistic player values into RB1, WR2, etc. positions and map out all roster spots. Most new auction drafters will initially overspend with this exercise and need to adjust their 'pie in the sky' roster expectations. If anything, I encourage folks to under-project with this exercise, leaving $5-10 (of say $200 per team cap) from the pre-auction planning. This allows to splurge on a player or two during the auction and stay on target or acquire a key target player or two mid-auction if bidding heats up.

The final mistake, or tip, I would offer to blend with the above observations is flowing with early auction observations. A bidder with a well-constructed draft sheet and a rough sketch of their roster result will notice a general under or over-bidding within a few players of the auction start. This is vital to knowing when to sit back and wait for values after 20-30 players are gone, or jumping into the early auction fray as top talents are going for discounts. Every auction is a unique team-building venture, requiring both preparation and early adjustments to successfully navigate the league.

Mark Wimer: I think this is excellent advice from Chad. When I do my budgets for an auction, I always set aside 5% of the cap to use as a reserve in case I overspend on a player or position earlier in the draft. Leave a margin for error in your planning and then you can pick and choose (at the minim) among the $1-$3 players at the end of the auction to fill out your roster, rather than being forced to use all $1 leftovers.

I budget by tier, by the way, rather than by player. I think assigning a value for a tier makes one less likely to overbid for any one guy in the tier, as you can stay more detached from the competitive nature of the bidding process if you are not invested in a specific 'value' for any particular player. Generally, I figure out a value I am willing to pay per fantasy point for the specific rules of that auction league, and then I group the players on my various boards in bands of 10-15 fantasy points. For example, this year my first tier of running backs is Todd Gurley, David Johnson, and Ezekiel Elliott. In a typical $200 cap salary PPR league my budget for this elite tier of fantasy backs (depending on lineup requirement variables and etc.) is right at $40. If the bidding goes over $40 for any of these three, I am not going to be the owner. Last Saturday, in the Staff Mock Auction (#9) I did indeed wind up with Gurley for $39.

Andy Hicks: The mistakes people make in Auctions are numerous.

Spending big early, leaving money on the table, trying to bid up other players and getting stuck with someone you didn't want, not nominating players carefully, putting too much money into bench players etc.

The best method for avoiding errors is planning. Assign each player a value. Realistically have your ideal lineup budgeted accordingly. Have backup plans in place should this auction be unusual.

Some people will not make a bit until 40 or 50 players are off the board. Some will get all the studs early and fight for scraps at the end. These are fine methods, but as Alex mentioned too rigid in their approach. The joy of auctions is that ANY player can be nominated and some people will only have eyes for the big names and let value slip through their fingers. Other times these fringe players get overbid because people see tons of money in their auction account.

I cannot emphasise enough that people need to plan and assign each player a realistic value. Bid accordingly. Look at the scoring rules and starting lineup requirements. Make sure you leave the auction strong at every position and have depth across the board. Easier said than done, but with good planning comes good results.

Devin Knotts: The biggest mistake that people make going into an auction is that they assume what their league mates are going to do and create a plan, stick with that plan, and then don't adjust away from that plan as it is crumbling. The reality of an auction is that no two auctions are the exact same and in some instances some weird things can happen. One recommendation is instead of focusing in on a single player to tier players and how much you're willing to spend in that tier.

During the draft, if you notice that the first few quarterbacks were going for more than your allocated budget for that tier, you now need to react accordingly and decide whether you want to pay the market price or if you are comfortable going down to the next tier of players and get them for a cheaper price. Consequently, if you had planned on one Tier 1 wide receiver, one Tier 2 wide receiver and one Tier 3 wide receiver, and you notice that wide receivers are being undervalued, you may want to consider taking two Tier 1 wide receivers and dropping down a tier at a different position.At the end of the day, flexibility and the ability to read the room is just as important as the plan that you have put in place.

Finally be aware of how many people still have a need for that position. In a twelve team league if there are ten quarterbacks that have gone off the board and there are still three that you are ok with having on your team, wait for the other two teams to get their pick of the quarterback and you will be given that 12th guy for a much deeper discount as there will be less competition.

Matt Waldman: Owners who are too cautious. The most popular strategy in auction leagues is taking the patient approach and "dominating the auction at the end." At least a third of your competition are bargain shoppers who want to brag about winning the auction in August.

It's a viable strategy. It's also a cautious one. If you don't know player talent or you think you do and you've been proven wrong too often, it's a great set of training wheels. But I do find it funny when I see all that August yapping from a grown man on training wheels yapping about stealing Andy Dalton for $3 and Brandon LaFeel for $6. It doesn't mean squat to me when I'm whipping their backsides in December with Rob Gronkowski, Julio Jones, and Adrian Peterson.

How did I get those three and not break the bank? I made aggressive bids early. Inexperienced auction drafters often approach the process like they're your Aunt Bertha who dips her toe into the swimming pool on a 75-degree Saturday in May and gives that dramatic full body shiver to display her distaste, and retreats to the lounge for the next two hours.

She was never going into the water anyhow.

I'll immediately bid high enough on a player that it removes the Aunt Bertha's from the bidding. It also gives pause to those are afraid of overbidding early. You always have those people in leagues who worry what everyone else is thinking--kind of like most kids at a school dance who want to dance but have their backs against the wall waiting for that one brave couple to get on the floor. Be that brave soul and ask that player you want onto the dance floor.

What often happens is that you wind up with 2-4 players lower than their value before the rest of your league is slapped awake from their lethargy. This even happens to the best planners, because they are so wrapped up in the structure of their plan on paper that they don't recognize what's happening at the earliest stages. I've Sigmund Bloom exhorting the rest of the league to wake up after executing this plan a couple of times in auctions with him.

Once the league wakes up and stops handing you great talents at reasonable prices, you can either put some tunes on and wait until you're ready to bid again--be it picking your spots for values or waiting until the end like the proud Andy Dalton/Brandon LaFell guy.

Dan Hindery: The two most common mistakes I see are over-cautious bidding early and over-bidding on the hot sleepers.

If you come into the draft with a pretty good idea of what you think each guy is worth and what you are willing to pay (studying up on on average auction values for your league's scoring system is crucial), you can pounce early when others owners are tentative and waiting for someone else to set the market. I love to get a top player in the first few minutes of the draft if my competitors enter a little bit scared to spend. As the elite players get more scarce, they tend to get more expensive. So it's usually best to grab your most expensive player as soon as possible. Each auction is a little bit different, so if you notice that all the players are too expensive initially, then you can adjust your strategy and sit back and wait.

The most common place I see over-bidding is on the hot "sleeper" that is getting positive press. It's often a younger player or rookie who is generating hype in training camp. I like to throw a couple of these guys out early when everyone still has a lot of money to spend to try to get a couple guys into a bidding war.

Will Grant: Lots of great info here and not much to add. The key as many have pointed out is planning before you start, but being willing to adjust as things go on. The reality is that in every auction, you're going to have one or two owners who don't want to spend their money too soon, and one or two owners who don't have a problem blowing a big chunk of their cap early if they think that it will get them a monster team.

The best players land somewhere in between, and like a redraft league (or keeper or dynasty for that matter), the best approach to the draft is focusing on VALUE. In an auction, it's just calculated a little differently. If people are overpaying for QBs early, you know that you can pick up other skills players at a more reasonable price, and pick up the difference in grabbing a lower tier QB.

One last point - it's human nature to overpay at the start of the draft. You have more money under the cap, and you aren't worried about spending an extra $1 or $2 for a guy because you can 'make it up later'. Take advantage of this by nominating players that you are not crazy about, or players that you know might start a bidding war. If there are two Packer fans in the room, toss out Aaron Rogers with your first pick and see if one of them overpays for him. Nominate second tier Tight Ends or Top Tier defense. Everyone who overpays in the beginning is someone who won't compete with you for your sleepers late.

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